This Virginia Cavaliers’ baseball team is in uncharted territory for the members on the field. Sitting at 8-0 on the season, it represents the best start for the Hoos since the 2017 season. That 2017 team and the 2015 team both started the year 10-0, but this team looks to sweep the visiting Penn State Nittany Lions this weekend to extend the undefeated start to the season at 11-0, which UVA hasn’t accomplished since the 2013 season.
Penn State comes in to the weekend after getting off to a rough 3-4 start thanks to a 1-3 opening weekend. Last weekend the were able to right the ship to take two of three from Maine, but these results did not shock too many since they were just 18-24 last season and were not voted in the top six of the Big Ten preseason coaches’ poll.
At the plate, Junior catcher Matt Wood is off to a terror of a start and leading the offense. His 5-11 weekend last week against Maine garnered him Big Ten Player of the Week and on the season he’s batting .458 with 12 runs, 3 HRs, 9 RBI, and a .917 slugging percentage. Sophomore infielder Jay Harry and freshman utility man Anthony Steele are off to impressive starts as well batting .379 and .375 respectively. Both have slugging percentages around .500 and on base percentages above .400. Though he is hitting well, UVA can take advantage of Steele’s aggressiveness as he’s struck out 6 times in just 16 at bats with only one walk.
As a team, the Nittany Lions are batting .272 (UVA - .350) with just 4 home runs (UVA - 14) and a .379 slugging percentage (UVA - .601). It appears to be a relative mismatch a the plate if UVA’s hitters hit as well as they have through 8 games.
For the look a 3-4 start has, starters Kellan Tulio and Tommy Molsky have done their parts over their 2 starts this season. Tulio has a 1.64 ERA and have limited opponents to just 8 hits and 3 walks over 11 innings, while Molsky has done nearly as well with a 1.69 ERA after giving up just 8 hits and 4 walks over 10.2 innings. It appears both have pitched to contact early in the season racking up just 9 strikeouts a piece, but hitters are only hitting .205 against them.
UVA will also have to avoid being down while facing Tyler Shingledecker out of the pen. The senior lefty has been lights out in his three appearances striking out five and giving up just 2 hits and a walk in 3.2 innings.
Penn State is another team that UVA should be able to handle with relative ease. They have a few bats and arms that could reach up and land a punch, but ultimately UVA has the power. The Nittany Lions haven’t appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 2000, but also haven’t faced UVA since 2004 (split 1-1 series). This UVA team should be able to handle its business as it has shown over the first 8 games to win the series if not sweep the weekend.